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Volunteers from Clarkson help kids make their lego robots. Photo: Sarah Harris
Volunteers from Clarkson help kids make their lego robots. Photo: Sarah Harris

North Country Children's Museum plans to engage, inspire kids

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Yesterday we brought you the story of Old Snell Hall and Congden Hall, two buildings in downtown Potsdam that are slated for redevelopment. Once it's complete Old Snell will have about 20 high-end rental apartments. And it will also be be home to arts nonprofits, including the North Country Children's Museum. The museum hopes to offer interactive, North Country-related exhibits-- including one you can climb on.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Right now, the North Country Children's Museum is a museum without walls. Maybe you've seen their trailer, and portable exhibits at summer festivals. Or maybe you've caught them at the Clarkson bookstore in downtown Potsdam on Saturday mornings, leading classes for kids.

On this Saturday, it's RobotZone. Kids are packed in at tables, finding the right Legos to make their robots. These robots are supposed to actually do something once they're plugged into a computer.

Third-grader Braden Garrow is building a robot that will draw. "Right now I'm making scribble art," he explains, "and I'm trying to figure out how to put these together. There's a plate that stands right here, and it spins around here, where this part goes, the plate stays right here and we just put the marker wherever."

Sara Zenger brings her 10-year-old son to RobotZone every month. He loves it -- and it's inspired him to do Lego robotics at home. Zenger says there just isn't much cultural programming for 10 year olds here. "As you get older there's school activities and you become rooted with your school. But with the younger kids, you have story hours and things, but then there's that middle age, where you need something a little bit more grown up." Zenger says these classes fill that void.

The children's museum has made being mobile really work. But director Sharon Veigh Williams says they're looking forward to a permanent home that's geared totally towards children. "Everything can be touched," she explains. "From the walls to things on the floor to materials that are brought in for special programs, it's completely hands on."

The museum's planning a variety of exhibits for their new space that Williams says "build off the richness of our region." They'll range from music and arts to science, engineering, history and Akwesasne culture.

The museum will occupy two floors in Old Snell Hall. It'll have exhibits and activity rooms centered around a giant maple tree, surrounded by netting, that kids can climb to learn about maple production.

The museum is fundraising to be able to build those exhibits. Last year, the children's museum received $92,000 in funding from the regional economic development council. In total, they've raised about $250,000. Their goal is $700,000. And they've also partnered with the St. Lawrence County Arts Council and Omni and Sequence developers to seek more grant funding from the state to benefit the whole building.

Williams says the museum will be a huge resource for North Country kids and parents. "On the one level you have professionals coming to the area, and it could be a real draw for faculty from universities with young families saying wow, look at what the Canton Potsdam region has to offer my family. On the other hand, there's a lot of children, I know from supervising and visiting schools across the North Country, that don't have access to museums and cultural enrichment."

Williams says right now, the museum's completion date is flexible. They hope to up and running by 2015 or 2016.

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